Tom is a PhD student in the Applied Mechanics division.
"I like the autonomy that I have had, the way that my supervisor has trusted me to explore a topic and follow my own convictions."
When did you decide to do a PhD and why?
Before deciding to do a PhD, I had been studying at Imperial as an undergraduate, where my major projects had focused on surgical robotics. Towards the end of my third year and at the start of my fourth, I was coming up with research questions in this field that I felt were unanswered. I wanted the opportunity to start exploring some of these questions and believed a PhD here would give me the autonomy to do that.
Can you describe your experiences studying a PhD here?
It sounds obvious that Imperial has a drive for scientific research, but until you are part of the research environment here, it’s hard to appreciate the strength and breadth of that drive. When I was exploring many new topics at the start of my PhD, there always seemed to be someone somewhere on campus who could give me advice.
What is your PhD research about?
My research is focused on smart orthopaedic surgery. Robots and guidance systems gained traction in this space over the last decade by introducing a new level of precision when aligning bones. In the procedures, however, there is an absence of data on the soft-tissue structures, which are known to impact upon clinical outcome. I am exploring new imaging and sensing techniques to incorporate data on these structures into the surgical workflow.
What would you say about the supervision you receive?
Unlike some other PhDs, mine is not sponsored by industry or part of a wider research programme. At the start, my supervisor and I agreed to leave the definition of my project purposely vague. Initially, he encouraged me to use that independence to build up a big picture of the field, searching for the area where I would make the best impact. Admittedly, not all ideas were good ideas, but my supervisor helped focus them into my current theme of research. Not only did this process benefit my creativity, it also developed my interpersonal skills, having reached out to other researchers both nationally and internationally. Regarding the day-to-day, I meet with my supervisor for an hour-long meeting once a week, where we discuss the progress and direction of my research. Normally, he is also available for quick questions and second opinions through the week. I meet with my second supervisor less frequently but again, he has also been quick to respond as and when I have sought his advice.
What has been the best thing so far about your experience?
So far, I like the autonomy that I have had, the way that my supervisor has trusted me to explore a topic and follow my own convictions. Together, I feel, we have set out an exciting scheme of research.
What do you think about living in London?
London is an all-encompassing city, it has a diverse mix of cultures and each area has its own character. I’ve been here a while now and I’m still discovering new things to do!
Do you have any thoughts about what you might like to do in the future?
As an engineer, you get to be an innovator, so I plan to stay working in this area or one similar to it, it just depends on where I fit into the innovation pipeline. I like the creativity of coming up with new ideas and driving forward research, but I also want the experience of seeing through an idea, translating it into the real world. We’ll see where that puts me at the end of my PhD!
What advice would you offer to students considering applying for a PhD at Imperial?
Your PhD will be a novel piece of research, requiring a degree of creativity and problem-solving beyond what is contained in the advert for a position. The adverts, therefore, shouldn’t be taken at face value. If you find one you like, I recommend getting in contact with a supervisor before applying so that you can understand and interpret it for yourself.